Events are in control. Jim Kunstler has been predicting that this time would come for a decade or more and it feels as though it is finally coming to pass. The response on this end has been to contemplate where I am in all aspects of my life from physical and mental health to financial stability and food storage. Having assessed as many of those things as I could, and quite frankly feeling satisfied that I’ve done the best I can to be prepared given my relationships and responsibilities, it has been a time of leaning in and enjoying life.
My wife and I have taken a few daytime constitutionals and we’ve been to some events, and a restaurant or two, we’ve done some deep cleaning that’s been needed for a while, but more than anything else we’ve taken the time just to appreciate how lucky we are and how lucky we’ve been. The up-lighting on so many of Main Street’s most beautiful buildings and along Worthington Street on a quiet night with a surprisingly healthy number of other people perambulating around the downtown makes for a wonderful backdrop as we share with each other all of the exciting things going on in our lives.
In our lives much of the last 4 years felt like we were dealing with Wuhan coronaviruses, Iowa caucuses, stock market melt-ups, “not q.e.” liquidity injections, and impeachment melodramas, but everything has culminated in the most marvelous of purple patches where our best laid schemes have actually not “agleyed” much at all. My attitude has nearly always been to avoid any application where the perfect wasn’t the enemy of the good: Anything worth doing is worth doing with moderate effort and with very little attention to detail! Those things not conforming to this heuristic are best left to those stupid enough to take them on.
There are so many fatal flaws in all my plans that they kill one another off, generally leaving me more or less unscathed. For a long time I was wondering how long I could maintain the façade of competence, but having come this far I’m afraid that an actual community has taken up residence behind my metaphorical Potemkin Village.
It was really just an hypothesis that it might be cool to live in the Wild, Wild West of the corner of Maple and Union when I bought my house 10 years ago. Yeah, I’d lived in the neighborhood, but Classical is more like a gated community than an apartment building, and the apartments I had lived in downtown, 3 in all, were part of well run complexes; here, I was going to be both management and resident. One of the attorneys who sold me the property mistook me for a contractor at one of our walk-throughs and said that the “potential buyer” was nuts to move in here with two daughters; that gave me a $25,000 discount on the price when we sat down to negotiate an hour later.
Security was job one. I had to make the place look lived in again, and I had to get rid of all the oversized bushes which provided so many hiding places from the front of the house to the alleyway which runs beside it. The backdoor looked like it belonged on a farmhouse in some idyllic Midwestern community where no one locks their doors or cares if door frames are square.
Next was getting utilities and the city to accept that I was using the house as a residence and not an office; I made doubly sure not to bring any work home from school just in case. The city bought in right away, the gas company took a few weeks to come around, and it only took the electric company a year or so to finally get me an actual bill; it’s a good thing I was skeptical that this 1870 townhouse, without any solar panels, was a net zero user of electricity.
My first winter heating bills were over $1,000 a month. Turns out that windows that don’t close and a cathedral ceiling without any insulation are bad ideas in New England; who knew? I got replacements for the irreparably damaged top floor windows and spent the next summer listening to the Kunstlercast and putting up insulation.
From there on things were piecemeal until Elizabeth came into the picture and refocused my efforts. Since then the garden has taken shape, the basement apartment has risen from the ashes (some literal) of what I used to call Guantánamo, the upstairs has been finished, all the floors redone, all the bathrooms polished. The only thing still on the agenda apart from the continual process of maintenance on a 150 year old house is making the kitchen a bit more user friendly. I put it together from scratch and dent appliances, used cabinetry, and sidewalk style concrete as counter tops. It’s very much the kitchen of a dude whose cooking skills were, let us say “nascent”! Except for the stove, it all still works. I did place the cabinets so that I could reach the top shelf…and I’m 6′ tall; Liz is 5’2″. I still get the stuff on the top shelf.
If my plans for my retirement, or the Springfield run of “Marathon Man/I Am Legend” work out as well as my decision to take up residence here then I will be sitting pretty. Whatever the case what I’ve enjoyed more than anything else is having done it. There’s nothing more fun than playing by your own rules, doing everything wrong, living where you’re not supposed to, sending your kids to the schools they’re not supposed to attend, and all that; maybe it’s just me.
I came to the city because I wished to live deliberately, to front the most important issues of our society and see if I could not better understand them by engaging them and not, when I came to die, discover that I had avoided living.